Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Control the game without the ball


An important characteristic of modern teams is their ability to control the game even when they haven’t got the ball. The whole team plays a part in this tactic with the intention of forcing the opposition into awkward situations.

The formation succeeds by covering all avenues of opposition attack, meaning that play is stifled. It relies on pressing as soon as the opposition has the ball. The defending team always keeps the action in front of them and tries to stop any balls through the centre or in behind.

This tactic requires good fitness from players because it is hard work. And for pressing to work, the team must prevent any switches of play as this will give overload initiatives to attackers. But performed well, the game rewards are significant.

How to set it up:

  • Set up an area measuring 30×20 yards. Make three 10-yard zones across the width of the pitch.

  • You will need bibs, cones, balls and goals.

  • The players in the middle zone must prevent other teams passing through them.

  • This featured session uses nine players split into groups of three (one group in each area), but it will work with any equal denominations.

  • No balls are allowed over head height.

  • Players are restricted to two touches.

Getting started:

  • Play starts with either end zone team. Players pass amongst themselves before threading a ball through to the team in the opposite end zone.

  • For the first two minutes, the middle team is not allowed to move any player out of its zone.

  • After two minutes, allow one player from the middle zone to go forward into the an end zone to press the ball. Play this for three minutes.

  • If the ball is intercepted, play restarts at the other end.

  • Rotate play so that each team fulfils defensive duties in the middle.

Now try this:

  • Remove the zones and add two goals, with a keeper in each. Also add a halfway line.

  • Keep the teams in threes but this time the middle team attacks one end, then turns and attacks the other.

  • The outer two teams must defend the area and clear the ball using the pressing technique.

  • If a goal is scored, play restarts with the middle group and they attack in the opposite direction. If a tackle is made, the defenders’ reward is to now switch places with the middle group, thus becoming the attackers.

Why this works:

Pressing the ball is a great tactic for winning back possession. This activity shows the value in doing that, compared to standing off waiting to intercept. Pressing means opposition players rarely settle on the ball and mistakes can be forced, either through poor control or a rushed pass.


7v7 formations: How to play 2-3-1

davidscwnewSetting up your team in a formation when they first start playing matches is as much a learning curve for you as it is for your players.

When I coach a team that hasn’t played matches or worked on formations before, I always find it best to start by looking at individual players and writing down the strong and weak parts of their game.

You will often see coaches put their weakest players in defence and their strongest players up front. This is wrong. You need balance throughout the team and, with U10s and below, you really need to be letting all your players try all the positions.

The 2-3-1 is an ideal formation to coach positions and give your players a good idea of what is expected when they move up to 11-a-side. This is because the responsibilities of each player are similar to the ones they will advance to.


  • You will ideally have at least one fast defender because you always need one covering player when your team has corners, free kicks and throw-ins in the opposition half.
  • One of the defenders needs to push up into the space created when the central midfielder attacks.
  • The defenders need to learn how far they can advance and talk to each other covering each other.
  • They will learn together as they play matches and grow into their roles.


  • The two wide midfielders can play as wing backs.
  • They need to get used to pushing forward using the wings to support the central attacker and dropping back to protect the defenders when they lose the ball.
  • Your central midfielder has to support the attacker and protect the defence. He pushes into the hole behind the attacker when the team is going forward, but drops deep when defending.
  • Midfielders are pivotal to the team and usually see a lot of the ball. The central midfielder is an ideal position for your captain or most advanced player in the team.


  • In seven-a-side, you are looking for a player who can finish moves off. Because of the pitch size and support from the three midfielders, your attacker does not have to be especially good at holding the ball. The central midfielder will do that.
  • Also, if it is not possible to get the ball across to the attacker from the wing, the advancing defenders will offer the wing backs a way out. Your players may be passing back but, in doing so, they are keeping possession and the ball can be recycled through the central midfielder.

Interested in more tactics? Try these links:

1. Elite Soccer – Jim Bentley, defending in a 3-5-2 formation

2. Elite Soccer – Carlo Ancelotti, attacking movement in a 4-3-2-1 formation